It was a beautiful, clear and relatively calm Wednesday morning in mid February earlier this year, as I walked along the beach near Playa Negra, about an hour’s drive south of Tamarindo, Guanacaste province, Costa Rica. My intention was to try and meet the owner of the local hotel, to introduce myself, explain what I do and offer my shamanic services to him and his guests.
The tide was out and the exposed expanse of flat sand made for easy walking. As I progressed along the beach, the ocean to my left, I glanced out to sea and saw a man, heavy set and maybe in his sixties, wading out into the surf. A wave hit him, not a huge one, but powerful nonetheless, and I thought to myself , “Wow that was a big hit.” I looked back after the wave dissipated and realised I couldn’t see him any more.
Fear and adrenaline began to rush through me, and then I saw the shape of someone floating upside down in the water. I dropped my small backpack, saying “no no no” over and over, in disbelief and shock at what I had just witnessed. I had to do something, so I rushed out towards him shouting “HELP!”, louder than I have ever shouted before in my life. In seconds I was there, but he was face down in the water. I tried to haul him out of the sea but he was a big man and I was struggling.
At that moment another man arrived, answering my scream for help, and together we dragged the limp, heavy body out onto the beach. We laid him down and the other man (Chris) checked for a pulse, which was present. We asked the injured man if he could hear us and tried to reassure him, but he was unresponsive. Others had come to help and 911 was called. In moments, it seemed, two doctors, who were on vacation in the area, were on the scene and one of them, a man from France, took over, and began chest compressions. I explained what had happened, what I had seen and we continued to work on the body as instructed by the doctor. I stepped back to give space to the three or four people, who were carrying out the CPR in turns. This continued for some time, everyone working incredibly well together, no arguing over what to do, seemingly expert in their application. But it was to no avail. After thirty or forty minutes the doctor told everyone to stop.
My heart sank. This man was dead.
Something kicked in within me and I asked if those present wouldn’t mind if I carried out a ceremony to help send his soul or spirit on it’s journey. I heard an agreement from Chris so I grabbed the small rattle from my back pack and knelt before this man lying on the sand, his physical body lifeless. I said some words, along the lines of, “Thank you brother for the life you have lived, the joy and happiness you have given others, but today was your day to leave this world. We send you off with peace and love as best we can. Our thoughts are with you, your family and friends, those that you leave behind. Thank you to all those that helped today, we could not have done more. It was his time. So we send you off from this world. God’s speed brother.”, and I performed a soul release process that I have been taught, and finished with a chant which became almost a wail, as I tapped into and released some of the emotion of this tragedy.
It was over within a couple of minutes and I moved away, back from the body, knowing that I could not have given more.
For some reason I gazed up towards the palm fringed back of the beach, some fifty metres away, and as I did an eagle carrying a fish in it’s talons caught my sight. This is not a sight I have seen before with my own eyes. I was struck dumb as immediately I realised the significance of this. Eagle, in the teachings I have received, means flying with Great Spirit, and this was confirmation to me that what I had done was correct and appropriate, and that this man’s spirit was being taken away by Great Spirit or God. My tears flowed.
Playa Negra is rather remote, accessed only by dirt roads and far from the nearest hospital. The paramedics arrived about an hour and a half after the tragedy, by which time I had met the agent for the house the deceased man was staying at and a surf instructor who had been teaching him. I found out his name was John, from Oregon, USA, here in Costa Rica on his own.
I left the scene and walked back along the beach stopping at one point to release further and let the tears of shock and grief flow, knowing that I was meant to be witness to this tragedy, to be there to help as best I could and to send his soul on it’s journey as I have been taught. The rest of the day however was rather a blur of emotion. A lot of whys and what ifs came up which I tried my best to deal with.
The next morning I walked again on the beach and bumped into Chris (not a coincidence, I’m sure of that), who had rushed to help me the day before. It turns out he is an ex lifeguard from Ventura, California and told me that we could not have done more to help John. He said he had felt John’s neck and it was broken. It seems as though the wave had thrown him down onto the compacted, rock hard sand, head first. Chris also thanked me for my words and the brief ceremony. He said it really helped him.
About a week or so after the tragedy I spoke to John’s brother on the phone, shared what I saw and what happened. He was very grateful as that was the first detailed information he had been given. John had one brother and two sisters but no wife or children.
As seems to be my path now, I am very much aware of signs and lessons put my way, to help me on this often difficult and solitary shamanic journey I have signed up for. I knew, as this tragedy was unfolding, that there was a deeper meaning for me. Of course the sadness and grief of John’s family and friends at this terrible loss is rightly first and foremost, but on reflection, now five months later I feel I can share this story and the bigger picture that arose from the sad passing of a life from this world. I was helped as the tragedy unfolded, by an ex lifeguard and two doctors, amongst others, so the responsibility and necessity of me “doing the right thing” was taken out of my hands, and I met Chris the following day who confirmed that we could not have done more, alleviating any fears I may have had over my actions. Also I was able to give some closure to John’s family, who had been given very little information about what had happened.
I was there to witness, to take action, to help, and then to send his soul off and finally, I believe, to share this story.
Is death the end? Well maybe, just maybe, as the eagle symbolised as it flew skyward carrying it’s precious cargo, with the mortal body left behind, John’s soul had been taken elsewhere, perhaps borne away to it’s own little piece of heaven.